Far too many movies about teens, sexuality and growing up relegate the adults to afterthoughts. The kids have to work it all out for themselves, because in the movie’s universe, the grownups are distracted, self-absorbed, overworked or worse.
The moment that tells us “Giant Little Ones,” a Canadian drama about sexual confusion and the increasingly fluid spectrum we’re understanding sexuality to be, is different is when the school swim coach mishandles the harassment of a gay swimmer, but does it in a way that shows compassion and good intentions.
“Cut the crap,” he tells his boys. Even the coaches are evolving in this corner of Canada.
“Giant” is about Franky (Josh Wiggins) and Balles (Darren Mann), two lifelong friends and teammates tested by a moment of sexual curiosity.
Franky is pale, sensitive with delicate features and a general timidity about sex. Balles is brawny, brash, confident — bragging about how many times he had sex with his girl (Kiana Madeira) before school as they meet to bike-ride to classes.
Franky? He’s playing the part, but getting “Is there someone you like better?” questions from his shallow, equally virginal girlfriend Priscilla (Hailey Kittle).
Balles is a swaggering jock, never shying away from a fight, bludgeoning the rednecks who tease the boys at the local convenience store. Franky isn’t, and his attempts to converse with Balles’ shunned sister Natasha (Taylor Hickson) with a sad face and serious drinking problem, suggest both history and sensitivity. And even though he’s not sticking up for the gay kid on the swim team, the fact that his other BFF is a Gay BFF (Niamh Wilson), a girl who is comically experimenting with her own sexual identity (flannel, baseball caps, “strap-ons”) speaks volumes.
In cinematic terms, Franky looks the part so he must be…
A night of partying throws Franky and Balles together. It doesn’t matter that Balles is all “Never would’ve happened…we were wasted.” Franky, still denying he’s “gay,” even to GBFF Mouse (Wilson), knows something did.
But coping with Balles’ version of events, which he spreads all over school, is a teen crisis like few others. Social shunning, gossip and even violence follow. The lifelong friends are at war, which brings their families — adults — into the picture.
The actors are proficient at playing kids who are an up-to-date collection of “types,” none more than “Mouse,” who lacks only a motorcycle to achieve full stereotype status. But Mouse’s “You should OWN this” advice is treated like the cliche it is. Sexuality is understood to be more complicated, now. “Surrender, Dorothy,” and build a Lady Gaga belly-baring shirt collection with eye makeup to match isn’t the only choice life offers today’s Frankys.
It’s the adults who surprise us here, playing catch-up on the learning curve. Maria Bello plays Franky’s seemingly too-self-involved to-get-it Mom. But she does. Kyle MacLachlan (terrific) is the father Franky shuns because…well, Dad left Mom for another man.
Peter Outerbridge also impresses as Balles’ dad, trying to smooth troubled waters, trying to understand, reaching out.
It’s all a bit on-the-nose, but writer-director Keith Behrman keeps it topical and touching, even if he never quite transcends prioritizing that topicality.
We’re past “Own it,” and labeling sexuality is starting to seem very 2000-and-late. That makes the tentative, exploratory steps taken here “Giant Little Ones,” no matter how big a deal they are to the kids taking them.
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug/alcohol use all involving teens
Cast: Josh Wiggins, Taylor Hickson, Darren Mann, Maria Bello, Kyle MacLachlan and Niamh Wilson
Credits: Written and directed by Keith Behrman. A Vertical Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:33